Tunisia requests postponement of EU delegation's visit

European Commission was expected to send officials to continue talks on implementing MoU related to borders and stopping illegal migration

Tunisian President Kais Saied, centre, welcomes French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, fifth from left, and German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, sixth from left, to the presidential palace in Carthage, in June. EPA
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Tunisia has requested the postponement of a visit by an EU delegation that was supposed to arrive within a few days, the government said late on Monday.

President Kais Saied ordered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to file an official request for the European team to delay the visit, following a meeting of the National Security Council.

On Friday, the European Commission had announced that a delegation of its officials would visit Tunisia this week to discuss the necessary steps to go forward with the implementation of an agreement between the two sides.

Tunisia and the EU signed a Memorandum of Understanding in July, in which the European bloc promised Tunisia a support package of €1 billion (about $1.12 billion).

About €100 million of that amount was expected to go towards helping Tunisia to secure its borders.

“We are currently looking with the Tunisian authorities for the best timing for both sides,” a European Commission representative told The National.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said on previous occasions that the pact with Tunisia could serve as a model for agreements with other countries, as the EU struggles to contain the influx of illegal migrants reaching its shores daily.

However, the budgetary assistance designated to help Tunisia with its current economic crisis depends on certain conditions being fulfilled.

“Regular contacts are ongoing between the EU and Tunisia, at political and technical level, both at HQ [headquarters] and via the EU delegation,” the EU representative told The National.

The European Commission announced on Friday that it would disburse €127 million ($135 million) in support of the implementation of the MoU.

The assistance package includes €60 million in budget support and an operational assistance package on migration worth about €67 million.

It comes amid a surge in the number of migrants reaching the Italian island of Lampedusa and follows a visit by Ms von der Leyen and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni there last week.

During the visit, Ms von der Leyen announced a 10-point plan to tackle the crisis on the island, including speeding up the implementation of the deal struck with Tunisia.

The EU’s migration pact with Tunisia remains the subject of heated debate, especially in the European Parliament, which has been very critical of the terms of this deal.

In Tunisia, opposition politicians and human rights activists criticised the terms of the deal and accused the government of continuing to serve as the gatekeeper for European interests at the expense of certain interests at home.

Since the beginning of the negotiations between Tunisia and the EU, and following back-to-back visits by high ranking European officials, including Ms von der Leyen, Tunisia began a crackdown against sub-Saharan African migrants, expelling many to desert areas.

In July, Human Rights Watch reported that hundreds were left stranded in “a no-man's land” without food, water or shelter in July, while at least a dozen died after not being able to reach a safe place for days.

Earlier this month, Tunisian authorities barred a delegation sent by the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee from entering the country.

The decision was denounced by the European legislative body, but Mr Saied condemned what he called attempts to interfere in his country’s affairs following reports that the delegation's visit purpose was to assess the political situation in Tunisia.

Updated: September 26, 2023, 12:19 PM